Kentucky Derby Analysis

By Josh Pearl

Posted: August 10, 7:17 PM

May 05 2018

7:38 AM

2018 KY Derby Analysis

Quick take: I think this field is much more competitive than most do. While this year seems to be more top-heavy than prior years, I do think the horses (overall) are just better than some of the prior crops. Each region (maybe apart from maybe LA) has had a dominant horse, rather than each region’s prep being won by new horses like last year. The key is searching for value, as is with any horse race. Playing favorites doesn’t pay off in this game and the Derby is certainly no exception.

From a wagering perspective: I think there are logical cases to be made for many in here, and like most years, provides an excellent opportunity to make money. Figure Justify will be your favorite in the 2/1 - 5/2 range, and Audible, Mendelssohn, Bolt d’Oro and Magnum Moon will all be in the 5/1 – 8/1 range. I think you’ll see bulk of the field in the 10/1 – 20/1 range, and more than usual higher than 30/1.  

Much like last year, I don’t think I can recall a field where you wouldn’t be shocked if one of 8 or 9 different horses won and 15 or so of them ran in the top three (I don’t like Bravazo, Promises Fulfilled, Lone Sailor, Firenze Fire, or Free Drop Billy at all). Even one of your longest of shots, My Boy Jack, has shown he can run all day, and has held his own in every race he’s ever run, on any surface. Unlike other years, it does seem (with the exception of LA) that each region has its own dominating horse.

Expected Pace: Fast to very fast.

Horses expected on or near the lead include: Flameaway, Justify, Promises Fulfilled, Bravazo, Mendelssohn, Magnum Moon, and Noble Indy

Midpack horses: Audible, Good Magic, Bolt d’Oro, Enticed, Solomini, Instilled Regard, Free Drop Billy, and Instilled Regard

Horses who will benefit the most from a fast pace: Combatant, Firenze Fire, Hofburg, My Boy Jack, Lone Sailor, and Vino Rosso

Track Bias: As of this writing on Thursday, the rail has been very good, so be sure to keep an eye on how the track is playing on Saturday.

Let’s take a look at the last series of prep races….


Blue Grass: The rail and seemed slightly better than the rest of the track on April 7th at Keeneland, especially in route races. This race seemed like it was full of speed, and that never really developed as Sporting Chance wasn’t as keen as he’s been in the past. Flameaway was able to make it over to the rail with a sensible 23 4/5 opening ¼ mile. They did speed up a bit the 2nd quarter as the ½ mile was run in 47.40 seconds. Ultimately, I think that 2nd quarter did Flameaway in as he just wasn’t able to keep pace with Good Magic in the stretch, but did keep on par with him once he was passed.

Good Magic ran well as he was 2-3 wide throughout, but his leg action did seem a little wary during the final stages of the race. Free Drop Billy raced very wide throughout, didn’t have the hottest pace to run at, and was bothered late by Sporting Chance. However, he wasn’t going to run better than 3rd so the bump didn’t really cost him much, and he also won’t have Jose Ortiz riding him in the Derby… I thought Flameaway ran a little better than Good Magic in defeat, and liked his leg action better in the late stages of the race. Chad Brown’s post-race interview also seemed like he was hesitant of Good Magic’s ability to stretch further.


Santa Anita Derby: Much smaller field this year with seven runners, as the CA crop wasn’t too deep. Justify had everything his own way with extremely modest fractions (23.96 ¼ mile, 47.85 ½ mile, 1:12.61 ¾ mile) and Bolt D’Oro was left chasing uncontested speed. What looked like a two-horse race on paper, ended up being what we saw. Mike Smith did seem to school Castellano as he kept Justify wide into the stretch, only to drift in late as he knew Castellano wasn’t going to float too wide. For the Justify believers, I don’t see him getting the perfect pace setups and small fields in the Derby!


Arkansas Derby: The Oaklawn track that day wasn’t quite as tuned up as it’s been for the last few Arkansas Derbies, but it did seem to favor outside speed in both the sprints and routes that day. While it seemed best to be wide, you did not want to be launching wide from way off the pace as there were several horses that day who looked to be launching winning moves into the home stretch, to only flatten late. Unlike the Rebel Stakes from March, this race didn’t have the pace presence of that one and Magnum Moon took advantage.

Although Vic Stauffer said they weren’t going fast into the opening ¼, that wasn’t accurate at all. The opening ¼ in 23.34 wasn’t shabby. However, Magnum Moon was able to get away with a slow 2nd ¼ mile as they went 48.60 for the ½ mile. I thought Quip had the best trip that day, but you could certainly make valid excuses for Combatant and Solomini as they didn’t get the pace to run at. Combatant is an interesting horse given he’s had brutal posts for every prep at OP, but he always shows up, only to hang in the late stages. Solomini has some right to improve as this was only his 2nd off the layoff, but his leg action is very questionable and I’m not sure he wants the extra distance.

Magnum Moon looks very talented, and I think is the horse who deserves favoritism in the Derby as he’s fought good horses, shown the ability to rate or send, and has won at different tracks with full fields.


Wood Memorial: It didn’t seem like there was an overwhelming bias that day at Aqueduct, but I thought it might’ve been a little better to be outside and off-the-pace. As expected, Old Time Revival went right to the front to try and steal it. He blistered a wicked first ¼ in 22.96 seconds and rattled a ½ mile in 46.68 seconds. Enticed broke right with Old Time Revival, but Alvarado smartly decided to sit back in second. I thought Enticed got the worst trip as a result, as usually chasing lone (fast) speed, doesn’t result in anything good. Vino Rosso and Firenze Fire both sat near the back of the pack, and certainly benefited from the fast pace up front. Restoring Hope sat just behind Enticed most of the race and really had no excuse. I thought Enticed ran the best race in here, and has the most of a reason to improve in the Derby.


Florida Derby: For almost the entire GP meet, coming from way behind, or chasing wide, was a huge disadvantage; the rail and speed dominated. In the FL Derby, it almost seemed like Robby Albarado and Luis Saez had a personal vendetta and Promises Fulfilled and Strike Power took the brunt of it. They went under 22 seconds for the opening ¼ mile! I cannot recall ever seeing a race longer than one mile have an opening quarter under 22 seconds. As expected, Promises Fulfilled and Strike Power finished last and second to last, respectively. Audible, Hofburg, and Mississippi all benefited as result.

Louisiana Derby: I thought speed was tough to carry that day at FG as most of the dirt races were won by off-the-pace, or deep closers. With the addition of blinkers, Noble Indy was sent, and he was sent hard to fight off a 100/1 shot in Marmello with an opening ¼ in 22.97 seconds. John V did him no additional favors by moving him wide very early in the race. The others in here (Marmello, Bravazo, and Snapper Sinclair) near the pace, all faltered badly so I think that speaks well for Noble Indy’s run.  In addition, he was resolute in victory after being passed in the stretch, only to re-rally for the win.

Lone Sailor had a perfect trip that day and certainly benefited from the pace, only to get back passed by Noble Indy late. He saved just about every inch of ground, in what was an excellent ride by Graham and it seems hard to see him getting any better. While My Boy Jack certainly benefited from the hot pace, he was near the parking lot coming into the lane, and just given a little too much to do. He impressed me in here, because his win in the G3 Southwest Stakes at OP was certainly bias-aided as the rail was golden that day.

Sunland Derby: On a day that it seemed better on the outside part of the track, and off the pace, Runaway Ghost did just that. It’s unfortunate that an injury will keep him out of this year’s race. Kept well off the rail and towards the middle of the pack, Runaway Ghost benefited in a race which the race completely fell apart after a blistering sub 46 half mile and 1:10 ¾ mile. Everything towards the front (New York Central, All Out Blitz and Shain Zain) finished near the back. Dream Baby Dream sat at the back and certainly benefited from the wicked pace up front. 

UAE Derby: As it was publicly noted, speed carried very well that day in Dubai. Mendelssohn certainly benefited from that bias as he made the lead early and was dominating in victory. He showed some professionalism as he moved through a tight hole early to make the lead. Once he made the lead, his leg action was beautiful and he did it all on his own with no pushing by Ryan Moore. He’ll be the real wildcard in the derby, but he has run in the US so the shipping shouldn’t be an issue. 

Stonestreet Lexington: The rail and speed did very well on this day at Keeneland. My Boy Jack was very far back as he normally is, but was able to save a little more ground than he did at Fair Grounds. While this race no longer is thought of as much with the points now in play, I was very impressed by My Boy Jack’s run in here. My Boy Jack shows up for every fight, and it doesn’t appear that distance will be much of an issue in the Derby, but traffic troubles might be another story…


The Runners

  1. Firenze Fire – 50/1

Tough post and will need to pass a lot of horses with his running style. The switch to Paco should have him closer to the pace, but I thought he had every right to run well in both the Gotham and the Wood, and he didn’t. I won’t be using him.

  1. Free Drop Billy – 30/1

Romans’ best shot in here, but he will need to take a huge step forward to be any part of it. The running line says he was bothered badly in the G2 Bluegrass, but I never saw it costing him anything more than a distant 3rd. I loved him after his win in last year’s Breeders’ Futurity, but he’s never really taken that big step forward. I don’t like Robby Albarado, so I can’t make a case for him in here.

  1. Promises Fulfilled – 30/1

Was put on a suicide mission that Albarado guided in the G1 Florida Derby. I have no clue what the goal was that day, but it surely didn’t work. His win in the G2 Fountain of Youth was most certainly aided by a bias. While I do like the switch to Lanerie, I can’t see any reason to like his chances in here.

  1. Flameaway– 30/1

Is Mark Casse’s lone starter this year, and coming in off of two strong runner-up finishes. I really liked his 2nd place finish in the G2 Tampa Bay Derby, and was also impressed by how he held on in the G2 Bluegrass. I’m not entirely sure he is going to get better with more distance, and concerned that he will be part of a fast pace up front. He’s the one that I think can make things very interesting for others if Jose decides to get aggressive. A third or fourth place finish looks like about this best he can do.

  1. Audible – 8/1

Was certainly aided in the G1 Florida Derby by the suicide pace up front. However, throughout almost the entire GP meet, it was almost impossible to sustain wide rallies from the back as the track was very speed favoring. I thought he ran the best race that day, but still not sure the crop down there was the strongest. I think he’s a nice horse, and should get a favorable setup in here.

  1. Good Magic – 12/1

Is the lone starter for the great Chad Brown. He did rebound nicely in his G2 Bluegrass win, which was his second start off the layoff. The track that day at Keeneland did favor inside speed, and he was chasing wide throughout. The race seemed like it was full of speed, but that never transpired, so that makes his win that much more impressive. In hearing Brown’s interviews, it seems like there are distance concerns and my only knock on him in the Bluegrass win was that he never really pulled away from Flameaway and his strides didn’t look the strongest late. I may use him on a few tickets, but I don’t think the price is going to be great.

  1. Justify – 3/1

Seems to be the real deal according to everybody… I don’t think you’ll even see 3/1 on him, and even at 3/1 there are too many questions to “justify” playing him at that price. I get the hype, but he’s never beaten more than six horses in a race, always been able to dictate the pace on his own, and he’s only run three times… In the Santa Anita Derby he benefited from very modest fractions and I’m not sure he beat anyone other than Bolt d’Oro. In a competitive field of 20 horses, backing a horse at 5/2 or 3/1 is just not my sense of value and I’ll be looking to beat him.


  1. Lone Sailor– 50/1

Was the beneficiary of a perfect trip in his 2nd place finish in the G2 LA Derby. The pace was hot in there and it setup for deep closers. On top of that, Graham rode a great race while saving ground and finding a seam to get through into the lane. After all that, he was backpassed by Noble Indy, and I can’t see any reason to like him based on that. Pass.

  1. Hofburg – 20/1

Seems to be one of the wiseguy horses this year, and I’d expect him to take a good amount of money in here. He was certainly the beneficiary of a wicked pace in the FL Derby, but he did run OK in there given wide rallies were not the best trips on the speed-favoring dirt track at GP. My issue with him is that he’s only run three times, is going to get bet, and Audible ran five times better than he did in the FL Derby. I could see him running in if the race collapses, but I think other deep closers interest me more, at bigger prices.

  1. My Boy Jack – 30/1

Is as consistent as you can ask from a horse. I really thought he’d regress a ton in the LA Derby as his win in the G3 Southwest was heavily aided by a huge rail bias that day. However, he launched a very wide rally in the LA Derby to just miss, and I thought it was a nice race. He followed up to launch another wide rally on a very pro-speed (and rail) Keeneland track on April 14th and seemed to want more distance. I like his chances with all the speed in here, and I’ll be using him underneath on a lot of tickets.

  1. Bolt d’Oro – 8/1

Was forced to chase a loose Justify in the Santa Anita Derby, and I thought he ran well given that is a tough trip to endure in racing. He’s a tough horse to dismiss, but I’m not a huge fan of Victor Espinosa on closers. I’d expect he’ll be sitting 6th or 7th in here and should get a good chance to run down the leaders if he’s good enough. I’ll use him underneath.

  1. Enticed – 30/1

Is a very interesting longshot to me as his last two races are better (to me) than they appear on paper. I thought he fought a small speed bias in his Gotham win, and he ran by far the best race in the G2 Wood Memorial. The Aqueduct dirt favored outside closers on April 7th, and he was much closer to the pace as he broke from the gate extremely well. He chased a loose Old Time Revival that day, and had absolutely every right to quit in the lane, but didn’t. I expect him to sit in the middle of the pack, and maybe more towards the front, with an excellent chance to make a big impact late. At what will most likely be at least 25/1, I’ll be using him in the first and second slots on my tickets.

  1. Bravazo – 50/1

Not sure what happened to him in the LA Derby has he lugged out very early in the race. His win in the G2 Risen Star was aided by a slow pace. Simply doesn’t look good enough to make any impact in here.


  1. Mendelssohn – 5/1

Is the real wildcard in here. He’s run well over firm turf, synthetic, and dirt, so I don’t think there’s any issue with him taking to the CD surface. I think his win in the G2 UAE Derby was aided by a speed bias, but the way he did it was simply amazing; he moved through a tight hole early to grab the lead and just ran them off their feet thereafter. I’m really not sure that he necessarily needs the lead, and I think you’ll see him sitting in 3rd or 4th off the speed. I’ll probably use him on top in case he is something special, but will depend on his price.


  1. Instilled Regard – 50/1

Didn’t run a like in the G1 Santa Anita Derby. I expected him to run better in there as I thought he had an unfavorable pace setup in the G2 Risen Star. Of some of the longer shots, he would be less surprising if he ran well. If Rosario was on him, I’d think about including him in some gimmicks, but with Van Dyke I’m going to pass.


  1. Magnum Moon – 6/1

Is who I think should be your morning line favorite. Fully realizing the post isn’t the best, I think this guy is super talented and can make his own trip as evidenced in his races to date. His win in the G2 Rebel was against a huge speed bias, and his win in the G1 Ark Derby was against a track that was not kind to horses pressed on the rail. Many think he needs the lead, but I think he’s one of the few in here who can sit midpack and make his own trip. I think the value will be there in the 7/1 – 8/1 range and he’s simply just reaching his full potential. Unless the rail is golden, he will be the one to key on most of my wagers.


  1. Solomini – 30/1

Is the longshot and unspoken of the Baffert contingent. I thought he had an unfavorable pace setup in the G1 Ark Derby, but had a great setup in the G2 Rebel. One could argue that he should improve in his third start off the layoff, but his leg action seemed weary in both races at OP. He is a very hard trier, and I can’t fault anyone for liking Baffert at 30/1, but I think a 3rd or 4th is his best hope.


  1. Vino Rosso – 12/1

Is the most talked-about of the Pletcher horses it seems. Everyone seems to be wowed by his G2 Wood Memorial, even so much that John Velazquez jumped off Audible to ride this guy. I personally thought he had everything in his favor in his G2 Wood Memorial win; he was on the best part of the track, and had a fast pace to close into. He was beaten twice by Flameaway who will be twice the price he is in this race… I’d prefer others in here at better prices.


  1. Noble Indy – 30/1

I was very impressed by his win the Louisiana Derby as he set a solid pace and was the only one to hang around late who battled early, on what seemed like a tough track to carry speed on that day. Further, he was passed in the stretch and fought back resolutely. In most years, based on that impressive performance, he’d be on my tickets. However, as in most years, I don’t think that field was very strong. Further, I think he has distance limitations, there will be plenty of other speed in here to contest him, and this post is brutal for a speed type.

  1. Combatant – 50/1

This guy has shown up to every fight in his career, and often has been handed disadvantageous post positions. The 20 post is less of a concern with his running style, but the bigger concern is that he’s often hung in the stretch of the Derby prep races at OP, after making very impressive runs. Of the 50/1’s in the race, I think he has the best shot of making some impact. Further, if the race does setup with a lot of speed, he will certainly appreciate it. As one of the longest shots in the race, I think he is the one that could certainly sneak into the top 3 or 4.

Key Horses I’ll be using on top to win and in exotic wagers:

  • Magnum Moon
  • Mendehlsson (depending on price)
  • Enticed

Big Longshots I’ll be using in exotics and mostly in 2nd and 3rd positions:

  • Enticed
  • My Boy Jack
  • Combatant

Horses who will be in most of my tickets, but not big prices:

  • Audible
  • Good Magic

Horses who I will not be using at all in any tickets:

  • Firenze Fire
  • Free Drop Billy
  • Promises Fulfilled
  • Lone Sailor
  • Bravazo
  • Noble Indy
  • Justify
  • Vino Rosso

My Top Five in order:

Magnum Moon, Enticed, Audible, My Boy Jack, Bolt d’Oro